Look who's wearing the Emperor's pants

Twice in two posts? What are the chances?
In the comments to this post, Anonymous asked for an analogy to explain my stats.  In thinking of one, I realised I'd made a couple of mistakes in what I thought Cameron was doing with the figures. Turned out things were even worse than I'd imagined.  Please go to 'David Cameron's speech revisited' for a clearer idea of what the foreign worker stuff is about and a better idea of how dishonest he's being with everything else.  Stay here for more jokes about pants and gussets.

One of the most depressing things about realising how bad the tabloids are and how little attention they deserve is watching people who ought to know better spouting tired, tired tabloid myths that have been debunked a million times over as if they were true.  Whether the motive is deliberate skulduggery or boneheaded stupidity, it's always depressing to watch someone like Baroness Warsi talk about Winterval replacing Christmas or Eric Pickles bang on about health and safety gawn mad as if these things were real.

At least no-one as important as the Prime Minister would be stupid enough to pull on those invisible Emperor-style pants and strut around as if they're the most stylish silk, their flaccid and sagging bits swaying to and fro in the imaginary gusset, eh?  Sorry, I'm mucking about again.  Of course they would.

Today, David Cameron is apparently going to waste his time delivering a speech about immigration that has already been leaked and published.  There's a lot of it to take issue with, and many, many assertions that you'd want to see backed up by at least two independent sources and looked over with a fine toothcomb yourself before you believed, but I want to focus on a couple of things I've looked over again and again and again on this blog.  I will be illustrating how wrong a set of figures are by comparing them to another set of figures that would look absurd if they were calculated in the same way.  I've taken these other figures from, uh, another bit of David Cameron's speech.  Which also relies on figures taken from tabloid bunkum.  Score one for boneheaded contradictions!

Cameron says:
Since 1997, the number of people in work in our economy has gone up by some 2.5 million. And of this increase, around 75% was accounted for by foreign-born workers … many of whom were employed to clean offices, serve in restaurants or work on building sites.
Of course he does.  As I said, I've looked at similar claims from the tabloids many, many times over the years, because they are rubbish.  They're very, very popular though.

There are a lot of reasons why the figures are so dirty and wrong.  The Daily Express famously managed to make the same calculation over a different time period to show the totally impossible result that foreigners took more jobs than existed and conclude 'MIGRANTS TAKE ALL NEW JOBS IN BRITAIN' rather than 'OUR FIGURES MUST BE RUBBISH BECAUSE THE RESULT IS IMPOSSIBLE'.

Although Cameron avoids the usual howlers of calling things that aren't jobs 'jobs' or British citizens 'foreign' (he fudges with 'foreign-born' instead) he makes one massive howler that contributes quite a bit to the possibility of getting the Express's earlier totally impossible result.  Which would make his assertion complete cack, of course.

The number of people in work added to the total is a net calculation.  It is not the absolute number of people who have gained work.  The number of new people in work since 1997 will be higher than Cameron's 2.5 million, because in the same period people will have left work for one reason or another.  Since more UK-born people are reaching retirement age than foreign-born - in fact, one of the big reasons people argue for immigration is that the UK-born population is ageing faster than babies are being born - you will never get an accurate result by doing things this way.

Working things out like this completely misses the number of UK-born people (or foreign-born, for that matter) who have been added to the workforce and replaced people who have left.  Plus, if a foreign-born person replaces a UK-born person in the workforce, they will still be counted as one of the 75% of the 2.5 million added to the workforce sine 1997.  If a UK-born person does the same thing, they won't.  That's without even mentioning how many of these 'foreign-born' people will be people who arrived as children or have been in the country for decades and have precisely sod-all to do with recent immigration.

You might be totally okay with using this calculation.  I don't know who you are. You might work for a tabloid or have some other reason for wanting to distort the truth to create a negative impression of immigration, I dunno.  But if you do carry on using this, you'd have to reject an earlier bit of Cameron's speech.

Before talking rubbish about foreign-born workers, Cameron says:
Between 1997 and 2009, 2.2 million more people came to live in this country than left to live abroad. 
But actually, this [immigration from Europe] counts for a small proportion of overall net migration to the UK. In the year up to June 2010, net migration to our country from EU nationals was just 27,000.
That's not to say migration from Europe has been insignificant. Since 2004, when many large eastern European countries joined the EU, more than one million people from those countries have come to live and work in the UK – a huge number.
If we accept that foreign-born people take up 75% of the 2.5 million people added to the workforce, then we have to accept that more than 50% of immigrants since 1997 have been people who arrived from eastern Europe since 2004, and Cameron's assertion that EU immigration counts for a small proportion of overall net migration is rubbish.

Well, you would if you wanted to believe that 'more than one million' number wasn't just a well trodden tabloid myth in the first place. But I'm guessing if you want to have your foreign worker cake with EU immigration icing and eat it, you probably do.

The 'over a million' figure is arrived at using the well trodden technique pioneered by the unparalleled James Slack of counting every application for a Work Permit recorded by the Worker Registration Scheme and ignoring the following things that some people might think was, I don't know, completely fucking essential if you want to work out how many people have come to live and work in the UK:

a) whether the applications were accepted or rejected
b) how many applications are from people who have applied before, returned to Eastern Europe and want to come back again
c) whether the people who applied actually followed things through and came to the UK
d) how many of these people actually returned home

Other than those things - the number is fine.  Over a million people have totally come to live and work in the UK from Eastern Europe.

That's as much time as I have right now.  Given the bullshit spewing forth in just two small claims, I can only imagine how full of truth and accuracy the rest of the speech is.

I think the thing that makes this thing sinister rather than just bloody annoying is the possibility that Cameron isn't so much swinging his knackers about in invisible pants as he is trying to sell us a stylish pair of Emperor's kecks himself.

He wouldn't, would he?


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I'm knackered right now, but I have to admit I have trouble following your statistical analyses.

This might be a dumb idea but I wouldn't mind an analogy, no matter how strained it is...

Anonymous said...

These blasted statistics annoy the crap out of me. I'm "foreign-born" because my father was in the British Army and I was born while the family was on a posting to Germany. My children are "foreign-born" because my parents emigrated to Australia when I was a teenager and I didn't move back to the UK until after I had children. We're still British (dual nationality FTW!) and I have to assume that there are a decent number of "British Nationals" who inflate the immigration stats in exactly the same way.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

It's not a dumb idea at all, and in fact thinking of one has made me realise a couple of mistakes in my assumptions.

That doesn't mean Cameron's right, it just means I made mistakes in how he's wrong. I'll write a separate post.

Rich said...

On a less cerebral note, that photo of Cameron just makes me think "I need a massive fist because I'm a massive wanker."

It's not clever but there you are.